Transgender men and transmasculine individuals are all too often left out of the conversation around HIV and STI prevention. A new report led by researchers from The Fenway Institute hopes to address this knowledge gap by outlining the specific sexual health needs of this overlooked demographic. The report, titled LifeSkills for Men (LS4M): Pilot Evaluation of a Gender-Affirmative HIV and STI Prevention Intervention for Young Adult Transgender Men Who Have Sex with Men, is published in the Journal of Urban Health and is the first of its kind to explore HIV and STI prevention interventions focused on young adult transgender men who have sex with men (TMSM).
The original LifeSkills project began in Chicago as a small group-based behavioral HIV prevention intervention designed to address the unique lived realities driving HIV risk in young transgender women. LifeSkills for Men aims to adapt this successful model to address the unique HIV and STI risks and prevention methods for young TMSM ages 18–29 years and conduct a pilot evaluation of the intervention.
“Studies have shown that TMSM may engage in sexual risk behaviors to affirm their gender,” the report explains. “This risk may be particularly evident in young TMSM who are emerging adults, as they navigate routine developmental tasks such as accomplishing identity consolidation which may include sexual experimentation to explore aspects of their gender and sexual identities, establishing healthy peer and intimate relationships, and managing family stressors and pressures and achieving personal autonomy.”
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Based on their research on HIV and STI knowledge and safer sex practices among TMSM, the report team outlined three essential strategies for reaching and engaging this population:
- Work “with” not “on” youth transgender communities to empower themselves.
- Address sexual risk in context—explicitly recognize that sexual health is not the number one life priority for young transgender people and that “lives in context” can and should guide intervention efforts.
- Honor that gender affirmation is a key aspect of life for young transgender people and work with them to understand the specific ways that gender affirmation—social, medical, legal, and psychological—plays out in all contexts and areas of functioning, including sexual health.
Sari Reisner, Research Scientist at The Fenway Institute, was lead author on this report, which was also penned by Institute staff Jaclyn M. White Hughto, Research Analyst for Epidemiology; Matthew J. Mimiaga, Research Scientist for Epidemiology; and Dana Pardee, Epidemiology Projects Manager. Chicago LifeSkills team leaders Rob Garofalo, Principal Investigator, and Lisa Kuhns, Co-Investigator, also contributed to the report.
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